On February 25, twenty-one Congressional leaders and top committee members debated controlling costs, insurance reform, and expanding coverage at President Obama's highly anticipated bipartisan healthcare summit.
On Thursday, February 25, twenty-one Congressional leaders and top committee members gathered for President Obama's highly anticipated bipartisan healthcare summit. The discussion was focused on four topics: controlling costs, reforming insurance, reducing budget deficits, and expanding insurance coverage. With a tight schedule, there was little room for digression into talking points or partisan bickering.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was exaggerating when he said that only Republicans have been talking about reconciliation, but he proved the point that Republicans have had input by noting that Republicans had made over 100 changes to the current bill. "The bill on the floor has significant input by the Republicans [and it] becomes your responsibility to make it better," he told Republicans.
Senator Tom Coburn made some off-topic remarks about how food stamps "create" diabetes and undercover patients should be placed into the system to reduce fraud. Then he was called out by Reid for filibustering, and Obama further snubbed him by noting that several provisions exist in the current bill that focus on eliminating fraud and abuse.
In the discussion about reducing costs in reforming healthcare, Democratic Representative Xavier Becerra argued that coordinating care for people would dramatically reduce costs.
Senator Chuck Grassley strongly opposed the government mandate in the bill that requires all Americans to have health insurance. He called the provision unconstitutional and said that it would be the first time in American history that the government required Americans to buy something.
Representative John Boehner relied on exaggeration or outright distortion when addressing summit participants. Healthcare reform is "going to drive up the costs of employment...federal government is going to design every single health care bill.... [it] allows for tax-payer funding for abortions." But Obama quickly rebuked him, "there are so many things that you have just said that...just aren't true."
Senator Tom Harkin got nods from Obama for his take on healthcare reform and segregation. Harkin argued against an incremental approach. "An incremental approach is like a swimmer who's out 50 feet drowning and you send him a 10 foot rope," he said. To further contextualize his argument, Harkin said allowing people to create "pools" was akin to segregation. "Whenever I hear the word "pool," this pool, that pool, this pool, I think segregation," he said. "You're segregating people out because of their health status. I think it's time to end that."
John McCain was given a small lecture from Obama for his statements about what the American people expected from Washington. "We promised them change in Washington and what they got was a process that you and I both said we changed in Congress," McCain said. Obama replied: "Let me just make this point, John, [...]we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over."
Nancy Pelosi concluded by correcting some statements made earlier in the day. "My colleague, Leader Boehner, the law of the land is [that] there is no public funding of abortion and there is no public funding of abortion in these bills and I don't want our listeners or viewers to get the wrong impression from what you said," she said. In regard to the current bills cutting Medicare for seniors, she said to Senator Dave Camp, "They do not. They do not."
The healthcare summit urged those at the table to offer cogent solutions for the un- and underinsured. Obama cited his own personal battles with healthcare but framed the problem as a struggle facing millions of Americans that Washington needed to resolve. "This is an issue that is affecting everybody," President Obama said. "It's affecting not only those without insurance but it is effecting those with insurance. When you talk to every single expert, and when you talk to ordinary people and to businesses, everybody understands the problem is not getting better, it's getting worse." The summit, he said, was instrumental in finding similarities in Democratic and Republican approaches to the plan, rather than differences. But Obama concluded by saying that if the Republicans couldn't get on board in short order, Democrats would move on without them.